Shooting Aircraft with a Camera

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Chief Master Sergeant
Dec 20, 2003
Ipswich, Suffolk
Perhaps I can ask you Guys who are keen photographers about your Camera kits. I used to do some serious exhibition photographic work but it was architectural and portraiture using a Mamiya RB67 I never did action shooting as you can imaging a medium format is not ideal so have you any tips In capturing aircraft action using 35mm or digital. I'm sure some of the other fellas on here would like to learn a bit as well
This is one of works I did and as you can see it is very different from Aircraft Photography. Sorry to be a pain can I ask you not to copy this pic as it has special meaning to me cheers fellas.


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Its a very interesting pic....... It hasnt been retouched at all???

Not sure on the methods for shooting planes... I never really concerned myself with the quality, moreover i concerned myself with the frame size of the picture and what was in the background....

Also, dont take a pic with the sun behind u, or the plane, but u should already know that.....
No retouching Les six individual exposures on the same piece of photographic paper. I was 5 days in a dark room on and off to produce it, all done with an enlarger and bits of masking paper.
What kit do you have by the way Les.
I envy your shot and feel a little guilty suggesting anything as yours are a lot better than mine.

The only suggestions that I can give are
1 ensure that the plane fills the frame as they always seem to come out smaller when printed, or it may just be me.
2 spotmeter on the plane or you will get the sky washing the colour out of the shot or meter on the grass roughly where the planes pass over it and stick with that setting as long as the light stays the same.
3 watch a couple of displays before you start taking photos and see if anything catches your eye. At Duxford there was a patch of sandy ground and as the planes passed over when taking off caused a flurry of dust. Sometimes you will see where the planes catch the sun as they do their display, if you know when to expect it you have a better chance.
4 If using film I tend to use slides. It less forgiving but when it works, it works
5 On old WW1 and WW2 planes have a go using Black and White film and if you can get it Agfa Scala, it can add atmosphere to the shot
6 Try to keep the shutter speed at around 250 on prop planes. If you don't they look as if they have frozen in space.
7 Practice
8 Practice

I am sure others have better idea's
I tend to shoot at a higher shutter speed. I like to stop the action and just leave a blur of the prop, although it does sometimes stop depending on shutter speed.

Depending on altitude and speed, you may need to not quite fill the frame and lead the airplane slightly. You will tend to stop when youe shoot, so it you are leading, you will catch the whole airplane, rather than just the front or back.

Always shott with the sun between you and the airplane, unless you like silhouette shots.

Rather than shoot black and white film, I use photoshop, or a photo lab if doing prints from color. That way you have the best of both worlds.

When doing digital photos, one word...photoshop! You can crop, color, resize and do just about anything to a good photo. In some cases make a good photo great.

This is going to sound crazy, but I did this in the past. With 2 day shows, shoot the aerial displays with video. Then, go home and watch it that night and look for shots that would make great pictures the following day. The only problem with that is if the weather or sky changes drastically.

Like the shot too, trackend!
Cheers fellas I did think about over under exposing by 2 stops as the sky predominates the metering this should pull the aircraft back out of the silhouette I usually keep a stock of cloud pictures so replacing the sky shouldn't be too much of a problem. But having looked at my camera manual (as Ive just bought a digital job to go with my 35mm) I can change to spot so I may well take your advice Glider and try that as well.
I can go too the equivalent of 340mm focal length optical on the digital and if required get another 80mm using a converter.
I like the idea of a pre shoot Evan that's a bloody good idea can I inquire what sort of focal length lenses you guys are using please.
The one that I use most is a 75-300, like you I have just bought a digital but haven't had a chance to play. On the ground a 24 is also handy.
24 is a nice lens. I use a 28 for the wide shots with my 35mm. I also use the 50 standard and a 70-210 zoom. The camcorder I use has a 500x optical zoom (Yes, it will really pull it in!) and the digital still cam I use is pretty much a point and shoot (Canon S50, 5 megapixel). I want to get the EOS rebel digital at some point.
May be you already know that, but I'll say it anyway even if it make me look a little dummy.

I heard from a professionnal photographer (at the TV) that to make a clean shot of a moving object (no matter if it is a plane or a Formula 1), you needed to move your camera at the same time that you take the picture. Like this, you get a clean shot of the vehicule and a blurred background.
Good info fellas. Bloody hell Evan thats not a lens on your video its a bazooka I assume you use a tripod or does the image stabilizer manage to hold it ok.
I run a EOS 35mm with a 28-70mm and a 50-300mm zoom but can push it with a X2 matched multiplier up to 600mm though I loose the auto focus.
An Olympus C770 ultra zoom is my new toy, I bought it for the suprisingly good quality, smooth, full sound Mpegs it produces and the colour rendition on the lens. Its 4meg but the initial results are better than my Fuji which is 6meg (having much less noise on the images) but i'll keep it for the Fuji for close up work though.
All your ideas are very helpfull guys and I shall try them all out before I attend an air show.
As you say Glider its all about practice and becoming familiar with your equipment and knowing what it can and can't do.
For good practice with moving subjects, I like to practice with birds. Track them with the lens and shoot. Then you can load them up on the PC and check your progress. That's one of the good things about digitals, you can shoot as many pics as you like and not have to pay to see the results.

There is some stabilizing in the lens on the camcorder. But out at 500x, it's still a little wobbly. I usually hand hold it and keep my arm against my body or preferably a motionless object. Helps for the most part.
Thanks Evan i'll take your advice and get in some practice. I have seen old rifle stocks used as mounts for long lenses with a remote release for the trigger I may go down the gun smiths and see what he's got.
While that would work, you could have to deal with increased security scrutiny if you show up at an air show with a rifle stock. You may want to choose a more neutral stabilizing platform.

One of the guys at our museum has a harness that fits over his shoulder with a mount that makes the shots very stable. I don't know how much it would cost though.
Many years ago I used to have a shoulder mounting similar to what your talking about Trackend and it worked very well. This was about 25 years ago when the cameras and film wasn't nearly as good as they are now but for tracking it was perfect.

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